It’s easy to run out of superlatives when describing Billy Talent. 14 years on from their self-titled debut album, tonights visit to a packed-out Bell Centre is in support of 5th full length Afraid Of Heights, and in all that time, they haven’t missed a beat. 5 great albums, 16 years of coming to Montreal (according to the band); you know you’re in for a treat every time they come to town.
Setting the stage for the headliners, Hamilton’s Monster Truck power through a 45-minute set reminiscent of late 80’s/early 90’s Hair Rock, though with a sound more like Soundgarden or Guns n’ Roses. The crowd seems pretty into it too, or at least, as much as a Bell Centre crowd can be for a band they don’t really know. After blazing through guitar rock number after guitar rock number, frontman Jon Harvey proclaims that they’re going to play some blues to “break it up a little” – lighters and camera phone lights soon illuminate the vast expanse of the Bell Centre. In introducing Sweet Mountain River, Jon pushes his luck even further: “we’re gonna play an old song, sing if you know the words!” On many occasions I’ve seen such bold moves by support bands met with awkward silence, and on much smaller stages too, so it seems an incredibly bold move to make in this place: however, their confidence pays off, as a big chunk of the crowd does indeed sing along. A couple more rock-outs later, and the band leave the stage, definitely with a few more fans than they had 45 minutes ago.
A brilliant DJ set of old school punk and alternative follows their departure from the stage (we get Bad Religion, Anti-Flag, Rancid, to name just a few) which nicely takes all back to the early 2000’s when Billy Talent broke through, and we’re halfway though Up The Cuts by Against Me when suddenly the lights dim, the song abruptly fades out, and Billy Talent guitarist Ian D’Sa strides out and immediately shreds the ultra-distorted intro riff of Devil In A Midnight Mass alone under a dim red spotlight. At least, that’s what we think; as the song kicks in, the stage illuminates to reveal the rest of the band, and frontman Ben Kowalewicz screams the opening drawn out “YEAHHHHHHHHH!” all at the same time. It’s almost a sensory overload, and is an absolutely incendiary start to the set. The crowd explodes into life: the floor section bounces and writhes, and everyone in the seats is on their feet; nobody around me sits down for the rest of the set. As Ben screams “WHISPER, WHISPER, DON’T MAKE A SOUND!!!” in the outro, it’s obvious that both band and crowd will be doing the exact opposite tonight.
This Suffering and Big Red Gun keep up the break-neck pace, before Ben addresses the crowd for the first time tonight: “Bon soir Montreal, ca va?? We’re gonna go old school…” At this point, Ian obliges with another unmistakable riff intro, this time in the form of the epic This Is How It Goes from their epic debut; again, the pit explodes, and the thunderous chorus fills every corner of the Bell Centre. The energy of the crowd is not lost on Ben, who afterwards encourages the guys to have fun, but at the same time, to look after the ladies evidently being thrown around!
After Rusted From The Rain, Ghost Ship Of Cannibal Rats, and Leave Them All Behind, Ben jokingly advises the rabid crowd that he’s trying to figure out a good time to talk about hockey… “I’ll let you get a little drunker!” Hailing from Mississauga, that’s probably a good idea, as we all know which team he’ll be talking about, and they don’t go down so well around here…actually, yes they do, 14 times in a row! (For anyone lost at this point in the review, our Montreal Canadiens have beaten Toronto Maple Leafs in 14 straight games. Just so we’re on the same page.)
Anyway, back to the show. The night’s most emo moment arrives in the form of Nothing To Lose, and is followed by Pins and Needles and then Surrender, the latter of which concludes with a huge pogo section in the crowd and Ben stepping aside from vocal duties and letting the crowd sing the lead into the last verse, which sounds amazing. The thumping intro to The Crutch sets off flashing red and yellow lights across the stage, before cutting to black at the end of the song, leaving only bassist Jon Gallant illuminated. He plays the bass-heavy intro to St. Veronika, before drums crash in and the lights explode back into life.
After River Below, Ben asks “are you tired??” After an emphatic “No!” from all in attendance, he continues “we’re gonna play a song we haven’t played in 8 years!” The epic The Ex from their debut follows, and sounds absolutely perfect, as if it was played every show every night; yet another standout moment tonight.
After another brief moment of darkness, Afraid Of Heights begins with Ian and Jon now stood atop the stage backdrop on opposite sides of the stage, and they remain there for Louder Than The DJ. After thanking the charities supported by the sales of tickets for tonight’s show, Ben says “now let’s lose our minds!” Devil On My Shoulder and a stirring Red Flag emphatically conclude the main set.
The band return for a 3-song encore, which Ian introduces simply with “this is an old one.” Another of Billy Talent’s unmistakable riffs explodes into life, in this case, it’s Fallen Leaves. The timeless breakthrough single Try Honesty follows that, and as Ben furiously screams “I’M INSANE, ITS YOUR FAULT!”, the crowds dispenses what little voice they have left along with him; oh yeah, we’re gonna be hoarse in the morning! During the breakdown before the final chorus, Ben finally plucks up the courage to bring up that touchy subject of hockey again: “We need to talk about our beloved Maple Leafs.” The crowd responds with a chorus of tongue-in-cheek boos. Unperturbed, he continues: “now listen, you’ve been good for a long time. We’ve been shit. We support you. You support us!” More boos jokingly echo around the Bell Centre. Ben gives up: “A-holes!!! OK, let’s meet in the playoffs!” With that, the song boots back to life for its grand conclusion. Viking Death March wraps up the show in emphatic manner after a truly memorable 1 hour and 40 minutes. 14 years and 5 albums down, Billy Talent have lost none of their edge; if anything, on the strength of tonight’s show, it’s as if they’re only just getting started.
Devil in a Midnight Mass
Big Red Gun
This Is How It Goes
Rusted from the Rain
Ghost Ship of Cannibal Rats
Leave Them All Behind
Nothing to Lose
Pins and Needles
Afraid of Heights
Louder Than the DJ
Devil on My Shoulder
Viking Death March
Review – Simon Williams
Photos – Ashley Macphee